Tuesday, October 02, 2012

RIP The Princess of Wales Theatre.

When I was in 'Les Mis' (the first time) at the Royal Alex back in 1991, I got up early one morning to go to the ground breaking of the new theatre that the Mirvish were building. 
The Princess of Wales.
There was a note up at the Alex from the Mirvish that they hoped we would all come down to the empty lot see the big event taking place. We all grumbled and groaned...and we  felt it was bit manditory...but we were all so glad we went.
When do you get to see the ground breaking for a new expensive, exciting theatre...when?! IN CANADA!?! WHEN!?
We saw the model for the new space, then there was a banner that unfurled with "Miss Saigon" on it...and there was a golden spade that was used by Ed Mirvish...was it Ed or David...my memory fails me a bit...but the day was sunny and I was 23 years old...all was possible, people.
All the Les Mis-ers went out for breakfast and talked about these possibilities.
THAT was a very exciting time.
'Les Mis' was running, 'Phantom' was running...'Aspects of Love' was just starting...I had begun the million auditions and call backs that I had for 'Showboat' (one of the first shows that originated in TO to make it to Broadway...along with 'Kiss of the Spiderwoman') we did a big concert version of 'Chess' on the Alex stage with a huge orchestra and all the cast from 'Les Mis', 'Phantom' and "Aspects of Love' ....and then 'Crazy for You' came along...'Miss Saigon,', of course...'Sunset Boulevard'...there was an amazing workshop/festival that Garth Drabinsky brought up to the North York Centre for the Performing Arts...where they did workshops for "Songs For A New World", "Ragtime"...a musical version of Anne Rice's "Cry to Heaven"...among other amazing projects...yes, most of the these workshops were populated with Americans that Garth brought up (in a 64 person cast of 'Showboat' there were only 6 Canadians) but I am firmly convinced that I would not have gotten to play a lead in 'Beauty and the Beast' if it were not for that Showboat credit... 'Beauty and the Beast...Rent...Jane Eyre.....Mamma Mia followed much later....as I said, it was an exciting time...all things were possible.
It seemed like there were at least 2 auditions a week...American casting directors were coming up to cast for US Tours and for Broadway...and it felt like it was only going to get better...well, we all know what happened...was it SARS? The dollar, the economy....or do we really have a finite audience here? Who knows.
It was a wonderful time when there was great excitement about many things...but one of the most exciting for myself and many others was the interest that there was surrounding Canadian musical theatre performers. Magic.
And the Mirvish built that wonderful theatre...the Princess of Wales was and is truly glorious.
I have had the good fortune to perform in two productions there...'Beauty and the Beast' and, 7 years after playing a swing in the chorus of 'Les Mis' I got to come the Princess of Wales as Madame Thenardier, alongside Colm Wilkinson, in a North American tour of the show...lord...full circle. I was so effing nervous on opening night that I promised myself that  if I made it through without vomiting, falling over or majorly effing up the words I would consider myself a success. It was an amazing night. I was brought to Cameron Mackintosh at the opening night party...yes, brought...and he and I sat and had a conversation...he was very kind and complimentary...and I went to the bathroom after and wept. 
The closing night of 'Beauty and the Beast'  at the Princess of Wales, we were all at the party and Ed and Anne Mirvish left hastily. We found out that Princess Diana had died in a car accident a few hours earlier. As we walked by the front of the theatre the flowers had already begun to collect.
When I heard the news of the...what shall we call it...removal...of the Princess of Wales I was sad...but not surprised really. 
David Mirvish has always loved art and architecture. More than the theatre? Who can say?  
Ed Mirvish loved the theatre...he used to come to visit us at the Alex all the time...coming through the crew room to say hello to us before the show. Olden times, people.
I have to say, I agree with Richard Ouzounian on this...if we can't fill the theatres, why not try to use the space in another way.
I know a bunch of you are freaking as I say this...but why waste the space?
People aren't coming to big theatre like they used to.
Nothing has a long run...unless it is a juke box musical...and that went the way of Mamma Mia...that was the last...We Will Rock You and Rock of Ages couldn't even keep it going.
I do wonder why the Mirvish blocked Aubrey Dan from getting a theatre in TO, only to bulldoze the Princess. It seems a bit selfish.
I know Dan has gone his way...he tried to do some theatre here...not in the way that everyone wanted him to...but what might have been different if he had had the Pantages...maybe not much...but who knows?
The bulldozing seems like a huge waste of money...but, it is his money, I guess...so what can we say?
I am glad for companies like Acting Up Stage...who are executing exciting contemporary musical pieces that people are flocking to and their casts are different every year...pulling from all of our amazing musical theatre performers.
Maybe the era of the big musical is done.
Maybe this is the time of smaller works,  independent producers and performers...people creating their own work...people generating their own audiences...touring our works around the world! 
I do wish that there was more work for our musical theatre performers. I do wish that Canada would take us and our work more seriously. BUT it is what it is. We will lose our performers to NY and to London...which is maybe not a bad thing...maybe they will go away and come back and take this country by storm. What if?
If you think something is the end...then it is...or we can create a more exciting future. 
I do think it is up to us.

P.S. or whatever one writes to add something! 
I forgot the wonderful Angelwalk Theatre Company...in that very theatre complex where I did the Showboat and a bunch of my own cabarets up in North York...doing amazing, contemporary equity musicals...I saw their 'Title of Show" and loved loved loved it. WAY TO GO!!! 
SEE all the new theatre cropping up!!!
Be hopeful and brave my people!


Vicki Laufer said...

I totally agree with you so many amazing shows went up their and so many amazing things happened their, its a shame that it's being torn down :(

Kevin Derouin said...

Love your blog. I know it's a bit late but I agree with most of what you said... except the part that maybe we should let the POW go because we can't fill it. The only reason we can't fill it is because we're not producing shows that will draw tourists. And we're not doing THAT because we have a monopoly. It's such a shame to lose such a spectacular venue. Have a read, check out my other posts, let me know what you think http://kevinderouin.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/too-many-theatres-or-not-enough-companies/